The term dialogue is a tantalising synonym for “communication”, and is often
considered more “communicative” than transmission. In fact, we have come
to refer to transmission and dialogue paradigms at a time when the current
popularity of the latter lies partly in its ability to represent all human contact.
The theory of dialogue draws extensively on Buber and Bakhtin, from which it is
identified with positive terms such as engagement and interaction. Transmission is
not only positioned in opposition to dialogue, but in being imagined as “vertical”
it is made to represent power, domination and monologue. Hence it is generally
treated negatively in communication scholarship. This article reconsiders
dialogue and transmission in terms of communication problematics, arguing
that each term draws its sense less from essentialist meanings than from the two
epistemological fields – rationalism and expressivism – that constitute modernity,
and which periodically hold influence over the kinds of questions that may be
asked in the discipline. The formation of cultural studies serves to illustrate how
communication can be historicised in a manner that rehabilitates transmission by
drawing attention to the term as partly constitutive of the field.